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The Best Chance In Life

The role of the Wheelchair Seating Therapist goes a long way further than merely helping to choose a mobility base & seat. The vision of the therapist is to give the wheelchair user & their carers the best opportunity to integrate & participate in everyday activities in the community (independence, work, learning, socialising etc.). Many studies relating to biomechanics of the human body & posture emphasis how the way we sit may affect many aspects of our lives. The Mobility Base & Seating are tools used to help achieve the ultimate care & efficiency results for the user.


People Involved For Great Outcomes


While the Wheelchair User is central to all operations, experience from others also have an impact on the success of the result. The Wheelchair Seating Therapist will often see the user many times over the course of their lives & with their experience in biomechanics & products, have extensive knowledge & will ultimately make the decisions during the selection process. The Caregiver is important as they have an intimate knowledge of the user & their needs. The Technician is the installer & understands the durability required & how intuitive products are to use. The Funder or government agencies often see products after they have been used & will know well, the products which endure, are easily refurbished & recycled.

Wheelchair Appointments – what to expect?

1. At your first wheelchair seating appointment the Wheelchair Seating Therapist will endeavour to gather information regarding your lifestyle, health, medical history, and independence. This helps the therapist choose the best pathway forward, enabling you to reach your greatest potential. During this session, an assessment may be carried out of your ligaments, muscles & limbs to identify their range of movement so you sit can safely sit better for longer periods. This “biomechanical” assessment is often carried out on a plinth or firm surface. Next, your body measurements are taken while you are seated in best position possible so that the best fitting wheelchair & seating is provided.

2. Your next appointment may be made once the therapist has carefully selected some options of wheelchairs & seating to trial. You may trial the wheelchairs & seating components to experience the look, feel & usability of them. Consider the environments where you might take the wheelchair & how it will be transported.

3. Once the most suitable items are selected, the therapist will write an equipment request report to acquire funding from a funding agency (government body or other). Sometimes, this process can take months before the request has been accepted.

4. On acceptance of the funding, the therapist can proceed to order the equipment & a fitting session can be held. At this appointment, a technician will adjust every aspect of the wheelchair & seating to preset it in the optimum set-up for you. They will then go through the how to use the equipment safely. Then you can enjoy your new wheelchair & seating.

The Importance Of A Comprehensive Biomechanical Seating Assessment

A full biomechanical seating assessment methodically encompasses many aspects about the client to ensure the best mobility wheelchair & seat is chosen & set up in the best way for the user so their maximum potential is reached.

The 5 Steps Of A Biomechanical Assessment

1. Information gathering

This is where information is gathered in depth about the client’s history, condition, previous surgery, previous mobility & seating experiences etc.

2. Supine Lying assessment

The Supine Lying assessment is carried out on a firm surface such as a plinth. The therapist assesses & records information about the user to determine symmetry & alignment, the flexibility of muscles & joints & where to correct or accommodate the posture.

3. Sitting assessment

The Therapist then assesses the sitting ability, balance, stability, symmetry, head control & the position of the limbs of the user in the seated position.

4. Simulate new posture & Centre Of Gravity

From the information gathered in the lying & sitting assessments the new desired posture is simulated on a firm surface or assessment chair. Once this is achieved the user is gently & slowly rocked forwards & back to find the angle of the best centre of gravity for the user (the angle of the user’s back in relation to the floor). When the Centre of Gravity is found often the user will relax their arms & find it easier to lift their head. The angle is then recorded so it can be duplicated in the new seat.

5. Measurements taken

Full body measurements are taken of the user whilst seated in the new simulated posture. Each side is measured individually.

Sequence Of Successful Positioning

When fitting the client into a new wheelchair seat, the procedure is broken down into well-ordered sequential steps to ensure a successful result.


The pelvis is the largest & heaviest bone in the body. In seating the pelvis is the ‘cornerstone’. Always position & stabilise the pelvis 1st before attempting any other part of the seating


Take account of hip dislocation & subluxation, relieve tightened hamstrings by lowering the knee into the contours of the cushion, take account of wind-sweeping, internal or external femoral rotation as this directly affects the position of the pelvis. Failing to accommodate wind-sweeping can increase rotation & asymmetrical shaping in the torso region.


Work downwards positioning the knees & feet as this helps to stabilise the pelvis in the seat.


Once the pelvis is stabilised in the seat the torso is a lot easier to position. An upright backrest (95 – 100°) can help with spinal extension even with users who have low postural tone. Match the backrest to the user. Locating & accommodating even small asymmetries in the users spine & rib cage helps to minimise spinal rotation & the development of a compensatory posture forming. Gentle support under a kyphosis or in a lordosis cavity taking care not to overbuild can increase comfort & sitting tolerance.


The position of the head is critical as in seating the head through gravity leads the body. The Headrest position set up is unique to every user & may differ depending on the support requirements, the sitting ability of the user, whether it is used for function such as head controlled driving or merely as protection during transportation in a motor vehicle.

For users presenting with low-tone & less ability to maintain their head position, it sometimes helps to provide more deeper lateral support, as restricting the lateral migration of the head often reduces the ability of the head to fall forwards.


The position of the arms helps to support the torso & can affect the Centre of Gravity of the user. Upper arms should be relaxed & in line with the torso. When the forearms are too far forward on the armrests the shoulders become protracted & the user’s back will follow. If the forearms are too far back on the armrest shoulders may become retracted. Armrests positioned too high can cause shoulder painful elevation & armrests which are too low reduces head control, & may increase the risk of a kyphosis reducing spinal extension.



Our posture, the way we hold ourselves, affects our overall wellbeing in many ways including the physiological function of our bodies, pain, pressure, stability & balance, vision, coordination & fine motor skills etc.

Posture may deteriorate with age, muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, inactivity, blocked or confused signals being sent from our brain to muscle groups & the development of compensatory postures.

When sitting in the optimum position, postural efficiency & sitting ability increases. As postural efficiency increases our subconscious effort on balance, stability & pain management reduces therefore much greater focus is able to be directed to the task at hand. This greatly increases the opportunity for improved coordination, fine motor skills & head control.

As our ability to control our own posture reduces we must increase our reliance on external supports.

The Pelvis

The pelvis is the cornerstone of positioning in a seat. If there is any issue with any part of a seat setup, it is important to first check the pelvis is properly positioned, as every other part of the body relies on this. The lower limb position (hips, legs, knees & feet) influences the position of the pelvis & they can be used effectively, if positioned well, to support & stabilize the pelvis. Seat tilt & backrest angle also have a direct influence over pelvic migration & must be set at angles which the user can tolerate & encourages activity but which doesn’t encourage slippage into Posterior Pelvic Tilt. Allowing Posterior Pelvic Tilt reduces the ability of maintaining spinal extension, reduces head control & can develop into a kyphosis over time. Also users with Posterior Pelvic Tilt may be at increased risk of pressure injury to the Coccyx & Ischial Tuberosity regions. Another risk of Posterior Pelvic Tilt is the internal organ cavity may become restricted effecting the function of internal organs including respiration, circulation & digestion etc.


Gravity is a powerful force on an unsupported body which over time, works to form a destructive posture. Body mass & lack of movement are targets for gravity. What begins as a muscle imbalance through asymmetry can end with a change in shape of individual bones & the whole skeletal structure making a reversal almost impossible.


Postural tone relates to the continuous partial contraction of muscles. When postural tone is normal, both the flexor (closing) muscles & extensor (opening) muscles have a constant balanced tone when at rest helping us to maintain a normal posture. Abnormal postural tone occurs when muscles or muscle groups become unbalanced. This may present itself in various forms including, poor coordination & integration, abnormal sensation, jerking movements, contractures, slumped or tense postures etc.

A client with an overall LOW TONE has a floppy or limp presentation & it is often difficult to maintain spinal extension & head control.

Clients with an overall HIGH TONE present with a rigid posture. Clients with HIGH TONE are at risk of their tone increasing if they feel unstable or uncomfortable in their seating.


Many pressure issues may be traced back to bad posture. Unequal weight distribution localises & intensifies pressure increasing the likelihood of pain & a pressure sore forming.


In sitting, the position where the least intra-discal pressure on the spine, the position least affected by gravity, requires the least effort to maintain & ensures better internal organ function is an upright, straight, symmetrical sitting position. Although the optimum sitting position is determined on an individual basis through the comprehensive seating assessment the principles remain the same. Where possible:

1. The position least affected by gravity.
2. Maintain symmetry & body alignment.
3. Neutral pelvic tilt (or slightly anterior tilt), pelvis level laterally, no pelvic rotation.
4. Upright back angle 95 -100°
5. Knees & feet at 90°.
6. Femurs slightly abducted, no femur rotation
7. Upper limbs in line with torso
8. Shoulders relaxed

In circumstances where it isn’t possible to achieve the optimal sitting posture, skill is required to determine where to correct or accommodate the posture in the seat.


During our seating assessments of many “high needs” users we found that EXTENSION THRUST can apply both to clients with overall High tone or Low tone but mostly was caused by only two reasons:

1. Discomfort – Most importantly & commonly we found that tightened hamstrings combined with seating which incorporated a traditional style high pre-ischial shelf was the cause of great discomfort to the user. It seemed counter-intuitive, but enabling the leg or legs to be positioned lower to relieve the hamstring muscles combined with allowing the feet to move back on the footplate or using 90 degree legrest hangers, the clients sat for much longer periods without extending out of the seat or showing signs of discomfort. Sometimes repositioning the legs laterally to accommodate tightened abductor muscles or adductor muscles e.g. windswept postures, greatly aided in the comfort to the user for long term sitting. Undiscovered hip subluxation or dislocation also causes a lot of pain & discomfort to the user & the client often will extend or twist in their seating to relieve the pain. Reducing any pressure in this area & reducing the tension on the hip belt can quickly help the client to relax.

2. Mood – We all have bad days where we want to vent our feelings & frustrations. As these feelings go well beyond how they feel about their seat, this type of extension thrust will not be fixed by well configured & comfortable seating although good postural seating may reduce the frustrations making the client happier overall.


Pressure Injuries & Wheelchairs

Pressure injuries are the result of prolonged pressure on the skin causing injury to the skin & underlying tissue.

Any long-term sitter (both in or out of a wheelchair) is susceptible to pressure injuries. Pressure injuries affect between 25% – 66% of all Spinal Cord Injury patients alone (excluding aged-care & medical conditions).


The risks of developing a pressure injury increase if:

  • Reduced movement or ability to change posture.
  • Poor posture leading to uneven dispersion of weight.
  • Reduced Feeling – these users must be checked visually regularly so that any pressure is found in the earlier stages.
  • Reduced circulation.
  • Extra weight.
  • Poor skin integrity, aged or soft skin.
  • Postural deformities such as Kyphosis where the skin is tighter & thinner over bony prominences.
  • After surgery where there may be rods or screws close to the surface.
  • Uncontrolled constant movement or spasms causing abrasion prolonged pressure.
  • The user is not making good contact with the wheelchair seating. Increased contact increases the redistribution of pressure.

1. From external pressure against the skin (such as cushions or supports).
2. From uncontrolled muscle spasms pressing or rubbing against supports.
3. From moisture (sweating, body fluids or damp seating).


Long Term Sitting IS TIME AN ENEMY?

How does time impact pressure? Compression + time = Pressure Injury. The risk increases if there is moisture or minimal ability to move.

Long-term sitters are most at risk!



  • Ischial Tuberosity
  • Sacrum, Coccyx (Tail-bone)
  • Greater trochaner (hips)
  • Spine (lumbar, Thoracic & cervical).
  • Scapulars (shoulder blades)
  • Elbows
  • Inner knees
  • Heels

1. Catagory or Stage 1. – Redness or colour change developing over bony prominence.
2. Catagory or Stage 2. – Shallow open ulcer or blister formed (excluding dermatitus & abrasion).
3. Catagory or Stage 3. – Full thickness skin loss, fat exposed.
4. Catagory or Stage 4. – Full thickness tissue loss with bone or tendons exposed.

  • Every long-term sitter must consider the materials of their seating. Fluid Gels & Air are great considerations to evenly disperse pressure minimizing localized concentrated force. Gel cushions have a solid feel which provides a stable base but are normally more heavy whilst air has more spongy softer feel with a high degree of weight dispersion & is lightweight but some stability may be lost. Pressure map studies can be untertaken to ascertain the best combination for the user.
  • When there is potential for a bony prominence to penetrate the foam padding of a support or backrest etc, polymer gel sheeting may be used in place of the foam to reduce the risk of bottoming out.
  • Ensure both the user & cushions remain dry. This may mean more clothing changes, seat cover changes during a day. When washing clothing or seating covers ensure they are thoroughly dried before reinstating them.
  • Change position every 20mins – Consider a tilting wheelchair for less active users where the wheelchair tilts to a minimum of 45 degrees to shft the weight from the pelvis to the back.
  • Physiotherapy – Physiotherapy & other programmes such as swimming is essential to help improve or maintain muscle tone & skin integrity
  • Always check for redness or pain developing. If you can identify which item is causing the pressure stop using the item immediately & notify your doctor or therapist. The earlier pressure is found, the easier it is to remedy.
  • New wheelchair seating can be like a new pair of shoes – get yourself used to the new seat by using it for short (15 minute) periods initally & gradually increase the time as you become more confident.
  • If the wheelchair user is at risk of pressure developing in the trunk region, ensure the backrest shape & set-up match the users body-shape & the set-up angle suits the user. Extra depth of foam should be considered and a layer of polymer gel in the spinal region can be added to protect the user from penetrating through the foam into the rigid backrest shell.
  • If the wheelchair cushion or backrest does not properly hold the user, they may slip into posterior pelvic tilt causing their pelvis to migrate forwads in the seat. This posture increases the risk of Shear pressure.
  • Wear soft clothing flexible clothing such as T-shirts & tracksuit knitwear which does not restrict the imersion into the cushioning.

Pressure redistribution is more in the domain of mechnical engineering & physics sciences rather than medical but the results of research have far reaching benefits for patients who are bedridden or wheelchair dependant.



In simple mechanical terms fluid & Air Cushions work as if there were hundreds of mini seesaws operating inside the cushion. When you press down in one spot, fluid or air must pop up in another thus equalizing the overall load over the surface of the cushion.

Pascal’s Law is one of the fundamental principles of hydraulics. Blaise Pascal discovered that the pressure applied to any part of an enclosed liquid will be transmitted equally in all directions through the liquid.

Air cushions work simiarly but use gas (air) in place of liquid. It is critical that both Air & Fluid cushions are only partially filled, because when pressure or weight is applied, the air & Gel filling need space to move to effectively disperse the weight.

Effective gel fluid or Air cushions transfer most of the weight vertically to disperse the pressure while limiting the horizontal spread of the cushion. Horizontal spread of the gel or air packs under weight reduces the depth of pressure redistribution.

Fluid & Air cushions are actively working & constantly changing shape to equalize pressure throughout the base.


No! There are many reasons for the development of a pressure injury, it may come down to the type of clothing, or the way we sleep. When a pressure injury develops a close look at every aspect can often find more than one reason which needs to be remedied.



People can experience pain while using a wheelchair for various reasons including:

1. Pressure Sores: Sitting in one position for an extended period can lead to pressure sores or pressure ulcers. These occur when prolonged pressure on certain areas of the body, such as the buttocks or back, restricts blood flow and causes tissue damage.

2. Poor Posture and Alignment: Improper positioning or inadequate support in a wheelchair can result in poor posture and alignment, leading to muscle imbalances and discomfort. It can cause pain in the back, neck, shoulders, or hips.

3. Repetitive Strain Injuries: Repetitive movements, such as propelling the wheelchair using the arms, can lead to overuse injuries, such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.

4. Musculoskeletal Issues: People who rely on a wheelchair may experience musculoskeletal issues due to reduced mobility and activity levels. Lack of regular movement and weight-bearing can lead to muscle weakness, joint stiffness, and decreased flexibility, which can contribute to pain and discomfort.

4. Spasticity: Some individuals with certain medical conditions or disabilities may experience spasticity, which is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. Spasticity can cause muscle tightness, stiffness, and pain.

5. Equipment-related factors: Poorly fitting or improperly adjusted wheelchairs can contribute to pain. Issues such as an uncomfortable seat, inadequate cushioning, or improper positioning supports can lead to discomfort.

6. Degeneration of muscoskeletal structure: Medical conditions which cause the degeneration of the muscles or bones can cause increasing discomfort in a wheelchair. With these conditions it is important to review the wheelchair & seating often to ensure they are providing the optimal support & comfort to the occupant.

7. Internal organ pain: Prolonged sitting can cause issues to the digestive system, breathing & other organ functions. To relieve organ pain it is important to have time out of the wheelchair & preferrably in the standing position.

8. Poor circulation: After sitting for extended periods compression on arteries (such as in the thighs from the cushion or forearms from armrests) can reduce blood flow to nerves resulting in pain or numbness. Review the cushion & seat set up to ensure weight is redistributed as evenly as possible over the cushion & increase time either in a position that relievs the weight from regions of compression, such as using the tilt function of the wheelchair to transfer weight from the seat to the back.

Staying Active

Maintain an active lifestyle to the extent possible. Engage in activities that promote movement and blood circulation, such as regular transfers, wheelchair propulsion, or participating in adapted sports.

Tell Your Healthcare Professional

It’s essential to address any pain or discomfort experienced while using a wheelchair as soon as possible. A healthcare professional or occupational therapist can help evaluate the cause of the pain and recommend appropriate interventions, such as adjusting the wheelchair, using proper cushioning, or engaging in physical therapy exercises.


Maximising Efficiency

Professional runners training for race will use a coach to analyse every aspect with the intention of gaining even a small advantage over their competitors.

With wheelchair seating, even minute alterations to the configuration can have a massive impact positively for the user.

Stabilizing the user in an efficient position, can enable the user to focus much greater effective effort towards the task at hand. Fine motor skills improve when sitting ability improves.

  • Balance. Ensure the user feels relaxed, safe & is stable in the seat. If the wheelchair feels “tippy” or parts feel loose, this can cause a lot of the occupant’s sub-concious effort to be directed at stabilizing themselves. This reduces their ability to perform the task at hand. Reducing the sitting height & widening the base of support can make the user feel safer in the wheelchair.
  • For self-propelling wheelchair users, rear wheel position, size & height, castor position & seat height, backrest angle have a direct impact on the power required to propel the wheelchair along.
  • Reduce movement within the seat. Bringing the supports closer can direct energy towards desired movements.
  • Enabling unrestricted movement where needed. Sometimes a support which is too close or too highly positioned against the user (i.e. a trunk lateral support positioned too high or a headrest positioned too far forward) can inhibit movement.
  • Monitor the wheelchair user in both static & in motion. Often a sitting position will change when driving a power chair or self propelling, & again during feeding & other activities. Does compromise the set-up to suit the user across the board or do we focus on the most important task? These are questions to raise during the session.
  • Hip belt position. Once again, trial the hip belt static & in motion to ensure its position doesn’t restrict or pull the user into a more inefficient position.
  • Wheelchair & seating weight. Lighter wheelchairs & seating transfers to more power & responsiveness. Also items which need to be transported often need to be manageable & practical for stowing on a regular basis.